Name as it appears on the ballot: Josh Parker
Date of birth: 28 June 1983
Years lived in Durham County: 22
Campaign Web Site: www.joshfordurham.com
Occupation & employer: Managing Partner, TBL Group
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing Durham County? What are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
Durham faces numerous challenges in areas like social services, mental health, crime, gangs, water shortages, economic development, mass transit, schools, tax policy and more. However, the primary issue facing Durham County is inadequate planning which leads to the failure to connect the dots and effectively solve problems. I see our challenges as interconnected and many of the answers we need to be successful can be found through proper strategic planning and creating synergies that solve multiple problems simultaneously. Our issues around crime and gangs are directly related to performance in our school system and workforce opportunities and vice versa. To fix the mental health system on a local level we need to work with other socialservice agencies that often touch the same clients.
One of the most important strategic issues in my mind relates to our growth. We do not have a coherent strategy for land use planning or economic development. Our area is growing and our lack of planning threatens to undermine our progress. Our current business incentive policy is not adequate to recruit new jobs, retain jobs or grow our base of small businesses. It pays no attention to what our strengths are in terms of labor force, business clusters or quality of life.Simply having a zoning code and comprehensive plan for land use is not enough. We must look at our strengths, acknowledge our weaknesses, determine how we will be competitive as a community, and develop the policy tools that will ensure we grow in a manner suitable to the wants and needs of Durham citizens.
Durham has incredible grass roots leadership but, we are missing strong leaders in elected positions who can help identify the critical challenges to our success and motivate us to work together on the solutions. To move Durham forward and bring our community resources to bear on this issue I would:
Begin the Durham Tomorrow Initiative. Much like the UNC Tomorrow process this is an opportunity for diverse groups of people to identify the challenges as they perceive them and help develop a plan to deal with them. Simultaneously we will evaluate our competitive advantage as a community and develop the framework for how we can evolve in a sustainable way.
Work with the Commission and Community to develop a strategic plan for County Government
Work with the Commission and Community to create a comprehensive and sustainable economic development strategy.
Push for creation of a City-County Economic Development and Strategic Initiative Department and tie its activities closely to the City-County Planning Department.
Expand Results Based Accountability to a program that monitors our progress and performance on a consistent (at least monthly) basis so we can allocate resources most effectively, solve problems and create community equity for all tax payers.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Durham County Commission? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
I grew up in Durham and know the dynamics of this community very well. It is important to understand the complexity of Durham in order to work effectively within it. By virtue of being young I do not carry significant political baggage. Durham needs honest brokers. People like me who understand Durham, but who do not have burnt relationships with certain parts of the community. We need people who can sit honestly and openly at any table and discuss ideas and strategies.
I have served proudly on a number of Boards and Commissions within the community. I have been a member of the Civic Center Authority, Durham Community Land Trust, Durham Cultural Master Plan, ABCD, PAC 5, Inter-Neighborhood Council, Council for Senior Citizens, and the Durham History Museum Steering Committee. On each board I worked diligently to focus on pressing issues while asking the organization to examine how it will be sustainable after each of us was gone. As a member of the Civic Center Authority I pushed aggressively for the Civic Center to be appropriately branded as a community asset and for a marketing plan to be developed and annually adopted to help maximize revenue for this loss leader. On the Durham Community Land Trust board I worked to tighten our financial reporting and pressed for a strategic planning process so that the board could be more active on tackling specific challenges to our growth. I also pushed for the Land Trust to look beyond the West End borders to other neighborhoods including downtown so long term housing affordability could be preserved. I worked with Preservation Durham to form and chair a new History Museum Steering Committee that was successful in getting Cultural Master Plan funding and have hired a consultant to move forward on the process of establishing a Durham History Museum. On the Cultural Master Plan Advisory Board I sit on the Executive Committee and Chair the facilities committee. We are currently working on a decision matrix for government staff to use in evaluating new cultural facility proposals with quantitative and qualitative measures so that we can better determine and assess community priorities. In ABCD I led the group against a proposed Clear Channel theatre by mobilizing hundreds of supporters, traveling with local officials to Houston, negotiating for a theatre more in line with Durhams context and eventually pushing for major changes that resulted in the Durham Performing Arts Center. In each case I have been diligent and worked hard to push for systemic changes and changes that would outlast my time on the board. My one regret for some of these boards is not being around to see all projects through. I had to resign from many boards last year due to conflicts with my travel schedule at my previous employer. I am very happy to see many good things still happening at these organizations, especially groups like the Land Trust who are working on a plan to expand affordable housing in other neighborhoods around Durham.
For the past six years I have worked in community and economic development. I started as an Associate at Blue Devil Ventures working on the West Village to leading Niemann Capital as Director of Development on a portfolio of projects in North Carolina, Maine and Rhode Island. At Niemann Capital I was responsible for all pre-construction activities for our historic preservation developments. On each project I not only led our team of staff and consultants, but worked closely with members of the various communities so that the development was consistent with the strengths of the local community and enhanced the quality of life not only for the residents and tenants of the project, but for everyone who came in contact with it. I led the negotiation and approval of two tax increment financing proposals (both of which were lauded as the largest, most complex and best public private partnerships agreements to date in the state) for projects in Augusta, Maine and Waterville, Maine. I also worked with Tom Niemann, Governor Baldacci and Majority Leader Elizabeth Mitchell on the formation and passage of two state historic tax credit bills that were pilot programs for a larger state program (The Maine Legislature is slated to approve a state tax credit program for Maine in the 2008 short session). I have been involved in public private partnership and crafting public policy at several levels of government as well as organizing on the ground to build coalitions in the community for successful developments. Durham County will benefit from having someone who understands business and the private sector sitting on the County Commission. I can be an effective advocate for smart and sustainable growth while also being a credible critic of any business or development that will not enhance Durhams future. Durham County needs Commissioners who can focus on issues and show results. We need Commissioners who understand smart growth, public private partnerships, and working towards a sustainable future. We need Commissioners who are focused on results. We need Commissioners who will work tirelessly to build consensus and coalitions in the community. My business experience with both the professional and personal work in Maine and North Carolina, especially Durham, has prepared me to be a dynamic leader for Durham County.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I consider myself moderate and left of center. I believe that everyone deserves a helping hand and that there are certain tasks only government can do. I originally became a Democrat through my Grandfather who was a traditional Southern Populist Democrat. I believe that Government should provide services efficiently and should be accountable to tax payers. I believe that Government should facilitate the building of Community Equity so that every tax payer feels like he or she has ownership in the success of the community and understands that together we all accomplish more. This is represented through my work in business and the development of my companys philosophy of a triple bottom line based on Restoration, Sustainability and Community Equity. It is also evident in my work on community boards in trying to form a framework for continued success and sustainability in the organization. My present platform looks to build localaccountability, empower the next generation of leaders and community members, energize regional leadership so that we understand our success is inextricably linked, and ensure our prosperous future by developing plans that will allow the community to work together and capitalize upon our strengths.
4. The Independents mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
One of the most important things that I can bring to the County Commission is a fresh perspective. I believe that building a just community means that we create and open opportunity to all people. It also means understanding the relationship between Equal and Equitable. We often hear leaders talk about decisions being equitable or allocations being equitable. While thismay work for tax policy, it doesnt work for people. People are equal. It is important for thiscommunity to embrace a sense of Community Equity where all people are treated as equals and everyone takes ownership in the health and success of the community. Furthermore, to create a just community we must create a sustainable community (socially, economically, geographically, etc.). I believe elected officials have an obligation act as leaders in moving towards these principles. The Durham Tomorrow Initiative is the first opportunity to explore these themes and work on a strategy for how we will come together and accomplish goals in this framework.
5. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected, that you know would cost you popularity points with voters.
I would be willing to push for an increase in the sales tax or land transfer tax. I would not take either option off of the table and pushing for either one would cost me support with different groups of voters. I am more inclined to a sales tax increase. Given the direction in the real estate market the timing is not right for a land transfer tax. We dont want to dampen an already softening market. Because the real estate market is softening, sellers can not adjust the price of their home to absorb the cost of a newly imposed tax, so sellers will pay the tax thereby reducing their equity and providing a disincentive to reinvest in a home in Durham. Property taxes are also creeping ever higher and for an equitable tax system we need to target the widest tax base, landis not it in Durham. On the other hand, many consider a sales tax to be regressive. There is no way around this unless we can get real tax policy change like that proposed in HB 153 that would allow us a local option income tax that we could use to provide refunds to low income citizens.We also need to evaluate any changes in tax policy in a regional context so that we do not unduly affect citizens in Durham and create an incentive to leave Durham. No one likes increased taxes, but we are overly reliant on our property tax and it is not equitable. We have real needs and unless we are going to cut programs or defer maintenance we have to be honest with tax payers and propose increases in taxes.
6. Durham city leaders have been criticized for failing to act quickly on dealing with the extreme drought. As a county commissioner, what policies would you recommendand try to build consensus onto address the existing crisis? Do you think Jordan Lake is an appropriate water resource for Durham? Why or why not? What permanent, new water conservation measures should be implemented in Durham County?
While County Government is not directly responsible for responding to a crisis in water management I believe that County Government does have a role to play in planning to avoid water crisis in the time of drought and on that front their preparation has not been adequate. The City of Durham manages water supply and is therefore responsible for responding to water management crisis. The County has taken a pro-active role in lobbying for changes in state rules about using gray water and recycling the treated affluent back in to RTP from the Countys water treatment plant. But the County needs to take several additional steps to help prevent a water crisis in the future:
The County should work with the city to better plan growth using water demand and supply analysis so that we are guiding land development along with the development of water resources.
Conservation should be promoted for business and industry. Efficient use of water resources is important because the net supply of water available is limited. The county should work with the city to provide rebates for retrofitting homes and businesses with low flow water devices. The county should also work with the city to make the capital investments necessary to fix leaks and raise the delivery efficiency of the system.
The County should look at development plans for the county and determine if policies can be put in place to encourage LEED certified buildings, efficient water use in new buildings and retro fitting existing facilities to use less water.
The County should work with other counties in the region to identify new water sources and opportunities to expand existing water sources so that the region is coordinated in its use of overlapping watersheds.
The County and City should partner to analyze what is needed to efficiently use water from Jordan Lake to supplement our current water supplies. The current plan of buying water from Cary in desperation works in times of crisis but is not an adequate long range solution. The areas of the county around Jordan Lake have seen significant growth and it makes sense for that part of the community to access water from it own watershed as opposed to using the energy to treat and transport water all the way from the Neuse River. Additionally, the fact that the Countys waste water treatment plant returns treated water to Jordan lake means that water would not be taken from down stream communities and we would be able to prevent harmful inter basin transfers.
Jordan Lake is good source for Durham given the pressures that growth in Wake County is putting on the Neuse River and Falls Lake. But, tapping that resource will likely be an expensive effort. We should first address water supply concerns by investing in our current system to squeeze every last drop of efficiency out of it. This has been successful in other growing communities where quality of life, economic development and population have surged, but total water use has declined. This will take a cohesive effort and leadership to achieve a healthy water supply plan and Durham County will be able to do it. We must work with our neighbors on our water solutions because we are all connected between the Cape Fear and Neuse River Basins.
7. In any county budget, some agencies expenditures must be cut, while others need increased. In the current budget, where can the cuts be mademost painlesslyand in what areas should allocations be increased? Explain your reasoning.
No County agency likes to have their budget cut. We need to expand our Results Based Accountability system to at least monthly monitoring of multiple indicators so that we can make decisions in real time and most efficiently allocate scarce resources. Mental Health has had a fund balance for the past two years with last year being over $5 million. Mental Health is not stable, so we need to be very careful about cutting this budget, but this is possibly a place to cut. Essentially, County funds are the last dollars spent on Mental Health and over the past two years Medicaid and State funding have covered the costs from the LME. I am not aware of any areas that are considered under funded and so I would not want to increase another budget unless we could show empirically there is a need or we heard that there was new community priority. Having said that, I personally believe we need to direct more funding to early childhood education and look to our school system to determine if there are any other determined priorities and I would explore this with the other Commissioners and the community.
8. Last year a public poll suggested the majority of Durhamites were hesitant to approve the land-transfer tax, which could bring $17 million to county coffers. What are the pros and cons of the tax? If the land-transfer tax were to fail, what other development-funding mechanisms should the commissioners explore?
The Land Transfer Tax can be a good tool for managing growth, but this is not the right market to introduce it. In a normal market when the tax is introduced prices reset to absorb the tax so that sellers and buyers equally share in it. In a soft market, like the one we are entering, sellers will bear the full brunt of the tax because prices will not change. Therefore sellers will lose equity in the home that they have earned. This causes a disincentive to re-invest in the community. Not only is the timing bad for the market, but there is too much pressure on land taxes already and the measure would likely fail on the ballot. If the land transfer tax or sales tax were introduced, we need to show Durham residents how it will affect other tax rates over time so that they understand the long range positive outcome. We should also explore tying a portion of the tax to a special allocation that had support across the community including in sectors that will likely work to defeat a new tax. Durham must work more aggressively to diversify its tax base. We need to take a regional view of tax policy and overhaul an antiquated system. The state will be changing the tax code in the next several years to keep up with the economy. If we work regionally now, we can build consensus around an equitable tax structure that moves us from an agrarian 19th century model to an updated 21st century model. Our tax system has become regressive, especially in Durham. We have a fixed amount of land and so there is increasing pressure on the tax rate. If you have a fixed amount of base to tax and keep raising the rate, you will prevent low income people from being able to afford taxes when buying a home and will eventually force rents to a level that excludes low income people. The alternative is the inadvertent creation of slums because landlords will pay taxes to keep their land, but not make improvements to their properties. We need to move towards income and consumption taxes so we have resources to provide services locally and means to fund regional priorities. If we make this change regionally we will be better able to fund our growth as a community and can prevent our tax policy from unduly harming low income persons.
9. On a related note, the cost of Durham Public Schools long-range facilities plan is $551 million. Given the financial constraints of the county and the lack of an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, how will the county pay for these schools?
This is a great question and there is no easy answer. Durham is a county of education and our commitment to our schools must reflect that. We have to be willing to talk straight with taxpayers and raise taxes, if necessary, to pay for growth in our schools. I am told by classroom teachers that Creekside isnt the only school with crowding issues; many of our classrooms are at or over capacity and rooms not intended for classroom use have been repurposed, not to mention the addition of trailers for classroom use. We do not want to end up like Wake County with schools busting at the seams, students shuffling around from school to school every year and parents upset every year. We must have a strategic plan for this community and it will include schools and how they affect growth and vice versa. We must get creative in our approach to capital funding. As the community grows we need to look at public/private partnerships in a new light. The old model was a developer donating some land for a school; we should look to the next generation of partnership. As good stewards of tax payer dollars we must bring a fresh perspective to capital funding beyond just floating bonds for school construction. My experience with finance and development will add new ideas and insight to these conversations.
10.The Cultural Master Plan has also encountered funding problems. Where does this plan rank among the funding priorities for the county and why? Where can additional funding be identified?
The County does not view the Cultural Master Plan as a priority. However, its implementation is critical to the health and success of this community. I would prioritize the Cultural Master Plan and work aggressively to identify and secure a dedicated revenue source. A prepared meals tax is a good idea for Durham. Wake County has this tax which is how they fund their cultural activities and capital needs. By not having this source Durham is at a disadvantage id developing a rich quality of life for all of its citizens. We have some work to do to convince some of our state elected leaders that it is the best option and that it can be designed in such a way so that it is not regressive. On a bigger scale this issue again points to our need for a more diverse tax base and my experience with and understanding of finance and tax policy will be an asset as the County grapples with this issue.
11. In appraising and property valuations, how should the county address any inequities not only within the residential sector, but among the industrial, commercial and warehouse sectors?
I have heard many complaints from property owners in Durham about the revaluation. Appraisal and assessment is often more art than science and this is evident in the recent revaluation in Durham. There are several policy changes we should adopt to prevent massive inequities. Here are two examples Ive been made aware of that highlight some of the recent issues.
1605 Dexter, a duplex, was formerly valued at $76k, and was revalued at $175k. Three months before the revaluation, the owner had a refinance appraisal which valued the house at $80k. Across the street there is a single family home that appears to be in better condition with approximately the same heated area that was reappraised to $139k up from $80k.
1024 Sedgefield was reassessed at $154k, up from $110k. The market sales listings show very few sales above $100k in the area. The only recent sale that supports the new reassessment is that of 1012 Onslow, around the corner, for $175k. Interestingly, that house was reassessed for only $118k. A nearly identical house on Lancaster, assessed at $109k, sold recently for $96k.
The County Commission needs to take a serious look at policy changes that will prevent these types of issues. These two examples are just the tip of the iceberg. I believe we have two better alternatives to the present system. First would be a system where the assessed value is set to the most recent sales value of the property, based on the tax-stamps affixed to the deed. The County would then move to reassess all properties more frequently (once every 2-4 years) by mass-appraisal and then every 4-6 by direct appraisal. This schedule will keep the imbalances from spreading too far. One criticism of this system is that it will create some imbalances based on market movements, but the discrepancies should not exist to the extent that they do in the present reassessment.
Second, and more ideal, would be to move our system from a building (structure) taxation, to a land-value taxation (LVT). The LVT system is seeing expanding use in the northeast (PA and NY) and northwest (Oregon). The system is designed to deal with imbalances better and radically reduces assessment costs. In addition, it eliminates many of the distortions that a property tax creates. Critics of this system will assert that it may be more impacting on seniors, but that can be addressed through generous exemptions, reductions and rebates. An LVT system would also good for Durham because of our high occurrence of blighted districts. The system encourages renovation and revitalization which is overdue in many of our neighborhoods around downtown, especially to the east.
12.The countys economic incentives policy lays out several criteria. What are the pros and cons of this policy? How would you amend it? What oversight mechanisms are in place to ensure companies adhere to the policy? Are those oversight mechanisms sufficient?
The Countys latest economic incentive policy was adopted in January 2008. To read it, one might easily believe it was adopted in January 1988. The policy is not terrible and does have some good protections for the tax payer, but it is limited in scope and pays little to no attention to the direction of this community. This policy is geared towards large scale investments of a commercial and industrial nature. As the local economy matures, we are moving away from large scale manufacturing and more towards small and diverse research and development. It is amazing that this policy ignores that fact. For example, major pharmaceutical companies in RTP are moving out of the R&D and production space. They are contracting production out of the use and they are essentially outsourcing R&D by buying drugs already in development by smaller companies. Phizer has purchased three companies or drugs in Durham in the past two years. If we want to capitalize on this movement and retain the companies that are already here we would look to expand this base. Expanding the base of small and diverse companies also leverages off of the Universities and technologies that would transfer into the local economy. By way of example; Google would be a great company to have in Durham, but instead of spending money on incentives for a call center, what environment are we facilitating for ideas and small businesses that will mature into the next Google.
I would not fully replace this policy, but as part of the Durham Tomorrow initiative I would look for ways to expand and diversify it. The policy calls for new investments of $50 million or expansion of $30 million or new job creation at least 200 jobs. This automatically says we see no value in small business that can grown and continually invest here. What if we got 200 companies in Durham (there are 1200 members of the Chamber) to hire one more person. What would that cost? Would the job last or would it evaporate as soon as the management with no tie to the area saw fit to move? Could we encourage the local companies to hire ex-offenders so we break the cycle of crime, joblessness and poverty? There is a basic disconnect between the policy and the way we talk about Durham and our priorities as a community. This policy puts us in the race to the bottom of recruiting jobs and providing incentives in competition against another town. Right now the policy is geared towards large scale industrial and commercial development. What does this say about our interest in promoting mixed-use, urban and smart growth development? RTP is moving away for the 45 acre tract development paradigm of the 60s-90s, why would the County still be trying to promote it? There is a basic lack of coordination because there is no comprehensive economic development plan or strategy. Unless we have one, our community can not evolve in a sustainable way. We dont want to replicate the efforts of other government entities, but we do want to create policy that is mutually beneficial.
As part of any economic development policy we need oversight. Expansion of Results Based Accountability would allow us to measure the progress of the investments we make on a continual basis. Waiting to measure at the end wont work. And simple clawback provisions can be contested. For example, the American Tobacco investment had targets for minority and local hiring. Both were missed by a wide margin. But what can we do? The money is spent? If we ask for it back, does the whole project fail? Is American Tobacco not a success? We need to look at the right goals and then be measuring all along the way. If a company is not succeeding on the target, we need to work with them to meet the goal. Apologizing to the community that a goal wasnt met wont cut it. In the policy if a company closes within 10 years they must repay the countys investment. This may sound good, but it isnt practical. If a company needs to close it will. If it goes bankrupt, we wont get our money back. IF the company moves, it will just use incentives from the next town to pay us back. It is still a loss of jobs, just because we got the money back doesnt mean we won. We need to look at ways we are facilitating an environment where companies will want to stay and grow, not just looking at how we can penalize them if they leave.
13.The county has adopted a Greenhouse Gas Reduction plan. How should the county monitor the performance of that plan? What incentives would be appropriate in persuading the commercial and industrial sectors to cut their greenhouse gas emissions? The residential sector? At what point will Durham need to take more aggressive steps in emissions reductions?
Expansion of Results Based Accountability will provide the framework for monitoring our progress on a consistent basis. Durhams new Sustainability Manager should not only be tasked with implementing this plan, but with monitoring performance. The Sustainability Manager should lead the proposed Green Team that will monitor and coordinate implementation. This team will also work to develop the appropriate indicators for consistent measurement as well as measurement of overall progress. For example, monitoring Kwh used from month to month and working to institute savings programs or recommending purchase of low emission equipment and monitoring the phasing out of old equipment. New and comprehensive inventories should be conducted every five years. Durham must decide if it truly wants to be a sustainable community. As elected leaders we must lead so that the community understands the importance of being a sustainable community. We are beyond the point where we need to take more aggressive steps. I have a great deal to learn about best practices, but I do know it is a priority. With what I currently know,as a commissioner I would advocate several strategies which include:
No new county vehicle will be purchased unless it uses low carbon emission technology (fuel cell, hybrid, bio-diesel, etc.) and we will work on converting any diesel engine which still has a 2 or more year county useful life.
All new buildings in Durham with any public investment will attain a minimum of Silver LEED certification, any building fully owned by the County will attain a minimum of Gold designation and any private development of buildings in the County targeting Gold or better designation will receive fast track status in the planning department.
Set a five year goal for any new building larger than 15,000 square feet to meet a Silver LEED requirement.
Work to convert all DPS and DATA buses to low carbon technology including electricity, natural gas, hybrid, etc. over a 15 year period. All new acquisitions will implement this goal.
14.The countys poverty rate is 15 percent. Although there are several committees whose charge is to tackle issues such as affordable housing and homelessness, what concrete steps can the commissioners take to reduce that rate? Be specific.
It is clearly understood that poverty is affected by a number of root issues. As part of the Durham Tomorrow Initiative we can connect the dots between these issues, get recommendations for solutions based on best practices and identify resources already available in the community to tackle them. Just as we talk about reducing carbon emissions by 30% we should be looking to reduce poverty and setting an aggressive goal. We can then focus the community on the issue. I believe that the basic issues affecting poverty are education, health care, crime and access to jobs. Durham County has a role to play in each area and they are all connected. We need to focus on early childhood education and healthcare so that each child comes to school healthy and prepared to learn. We also need to look at the health of our students. Durham can use a program like Berkley, CA that incorporates sustainable agriculture into school lunches. This not only provides a nutritious diet, but teaches students about the value of the earth and its relationship to our community. As the program expands it can also provide good jobs for Durham residents. Public Safety is important, but breaking the cycle that leads to crime by making sure people are educated and have opportunities for success is even more important. As we create an economic development plan we need to look at our current workforce and where jobs are currently available. We should look at what training opportunities are needed to prepare the workforce and based on the strengths of our workforce, work on job creation that meets our strengths. County Commissioners should:
Lobby at the state level for increased Smart Start and More at Four funding and where necessary make a local commitment to fully fund this priority.
Work with the school system to develop a sustainable agriculture program for school lunches with community partners like SEEDS.
Provide incentives to businesses that agree to hire ex-offenders and assist in their education.
Expand workforce training opportunities especially vocational training.
Set targets for workforce segment hiring
Initiate a County Youth Employment Program to provide after school and summer school work and mentorship opportunities.
15.The criminal justice system is a large component of county government. What are your priorities for improvements in services, such as the court system, jail, re-entry programs, juvenile justice? How will you fund those priorities? How will you measure the success of those programs?
Durham County has serious issues within the criminal justice system. Some of the basic issues that we need to move swiftly to correct deal with facilities and staffing. County staff and architects are working on the new courthouse design; however they are largely ignoring the input of the professionals who work in the building. I have spoken with several judges and attorneys in the District Attorneys office about their goals for the new judicial complex. None of these requests are being given serious consideration according to my conversations with County staff. We need to listen to the people who work in the facility so that the building meets the needs of the users. Staffing issues continue to be problematic. I would continue to support the Countys funding of positions in the court system until we can replace the local funding with state funding. Right now our Jail does not have the staffing it needs to operate effectively. County Commissioners need to work with the Sherriff to ensure that positions are funded and that benefits are such that we can retain corrections officers.
The criminal justice system has some other more complex issues that also merit attention. We must work aggressively to break the cycle of inadequate education, crime, and lack of job opportunity. We must begin with education and target early childhood all the way through graduation. Durham has many groups that are focused on this issue, but there is a significant lack of coordination. This is a role the County can play. We must focus not only on public safety and prosecuting criminals, but on targeting people before they turn to crime. Many people who do not have education or the access to a job turn to the street and crime as a means of existence. If we focus on education and work with the private sector to incentivize hiring of at risk people, especially our youth we can prevent the turn to crime. We also need to spend some time talking to young people, to ex offenders and to people who are currently being prosecuted or punished. We need to listen to how they got where they are and what this community can do to support them. The Durham Tomorrow Initiative will be a perfect opportunity to listen to the people of Durham, inventory the available resources and develop the comprehensive plan. This will give us a sustainable framework to tackle the problem and break the cycle many of our citizens are stuck in.